I mostly agree with Massimo Vignelli that there are only five typefaces, but when I started my search for a complete set of wood type (or wooden letters as the English call it…), I was mesmerized by both the design of the letters and the actual objects themselves. These typefaces are an amazing part of American design history, and the innovation that went into their production revolutionized an industry. I have come to this a bit late, most of what I am looking to collect is almost out of the range of what I can afford, but I have been able to purchase boxes of random assorted wood type (pied type as they call it…). I must admit that when I bought them seven years ago my intention was to give away a letter here another there to people as gifts, but then realized how I could possibly use these down the road. The real beauty of these letters is that they are usable objects that get better with age. It has been frustrating having only one or two sorts
of a given typeface, and I had almost given up with collecting any kind of wood type. Well, my wife surprised me with a complete set of medium gothic wood type this year!
Wood type has a certain aesthetic, I call it the “Hatch Show Print look”
, which has merit, but I have found a few different links to individuals who are pushing the medium into different directions. Some are experimenting with the letters themselves, others are using CNC machines to make new type, and others are proofing these letters and creating digital files from them to make photopolymer plates for printing. All of this is inspiring and has motivated me to experiment. I see the potential for creating wood type on a CNC machine
, but the cost seems too high when you have other alternatives. Maybe it can be used for recreating lost letters in a set?
One of the more interesting blogs out there, woodtyper, is devoted to wood type that is run by the designer Nick Sherman.
Another interesting place online to educate yourself on the subject is the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.
Hamilton was the premier manufacturer of wood type and printer’s supplies up until about 1985. It is a great museum, and it deserves your financial support. I have included a short clip on a documentary on the museum in this post, check it out. Yet another place online to get into all of the particulars of wood type design and manufacture is the Rob Roy Kelly collection on the University of Texas at Austin’s website.
Lastly, on the woodtyper site I found this interesting video clip about a wall that Lou Dorfsman designed at CBS headquarters in New York. Form what I can tell from the clip is that this was built onto a wall in their cafeteria? Has anyone out there who is reading this eaten in this cafeteria? Is it still there? This clip was placed on YouTube to ask for donations to restore it. Maybe this would be a good place to put small amount of your total charitable donations for 2009? Or to the Hamilton Museum? Membership with the Hamilton museum includes a digital typeface, and poster.
Happy new year everyone! It is my hope that we all can find fullfilment as artists, illustrators, and human beings in the new year. It also is my hope that we can also find the financial security we need as well. Here's to 2010!